Fake Iraq Book Club

August 24, 2008

Another vignette:

Once, when I was “embedded” as a fake journalist in the Army’s simulation training at the NTC at Fort Irwin, all of the unit’s helicopters were grounded, and we spent an afternoon talking about books.  A soldier asked me for some recommendations, because he’s moved from trash (his word) like John Grisham novels to Hemingway, but he was having a hard time reading A Farewell to Arms because the book seemed so dumb.

 

(Soldiers read a lot more than you would think; they have a lot of downtime and it’s a cheap, lightweight way to pass the time when they get sick of video games and BitTorrented movies.  I’ve seen soldiers reading everything from the Bible to Hemingway to books on the history of Afghanistan and Iraq, though most soldiers have told me that the last thing they want to read about is military stuff.   The chaplain even gives out copies of the Bible, the Koran, and The Purpose Driven Life, but the latter two are much more highly sought after than the Bible, generally speaking.)

 

I agreed that Hemingway is/was dumb and did an impression of his stilted prose, which made the soldiers laugh.  They asked me for a recommendation and I suggested Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow but had a hard time trying to summarize the plot.  Then, the Lieutenant who was my “media shadow” recommended Dante’s Inferno, and the soldier said that he’d give it a try; evidently a higher-up officer had recommended Dante to everybody, and when the Lieutenant (who was very well-read) made the suggestion, the other four or five soldiers in the room started to try to recall and piece together which kind of sins were punished in which circle of hell.

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One Response to “Fake Iraq Book Club”

  1. Will Says:

    Wow, great timing. Go check this out:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/22/AR2008082202398_pf.html

    There are so many recommendations you could make, it’d
    be hard to find a few that hit the mark for them. Help me out:
    there was one unforgettable image of Hell that just blew
    me away and has stayed with me– the description of a lower
    pit of Hell where it’s just a huge empty plain and there are
    flame-flakes falling like snow, slowly, all around. There wasn’t
    any butchering going on, but the sense of spiritual agony was
    intense. Was that the Inferno or Paradise Lost? I’m thinking
    Inferno.


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